May 12, 1971: Nurse Col. Florence Blanchfield Dies at 87

May 12, 2017

Credit E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Colonel Florence Blanchfield died in Washington on May 12, 1971, at age 87. She was born in Shepherdstown in 1884, the daughter of a nurse and a stonecutter. After training as a nurse in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps in 1917 and served in France during World I.

Between the wars, Blanchfield served in various army hospitals and in the surgeon general’s office. She was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in 1942 and became superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps a year later. During World War II, she oversaw expansion of the corps from 1,000 to 57,000, the largest group of nurses ever to serve on active duty.

After the war, she played an important role in passage of the Army-Navy Nurses Act. It allowed female nurses to hold full rank and receive the same rights, privileges, and pay as commissioned male officers. In 1947, Blanchfield became the first woman to hold a permanent commission in the regular U.S. army. She retired the same year.